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A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

by Gabriel García Márquez

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Student Question

In "A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings," how do fantastic elements reveal human behavior?

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What this story reveals above all else through the fantastical elements is the ceaseless human need to derive meaning from events, even when meaning itself is very hard to come by. Marquez uses the fantastical appearance of a figure who is, to all intents and purposes, an angel, who literally drops into a community. He then records the different theories and ways in which the villagers try to explain his presence and what this might mean. Note how the villagers have different interpretations of the angel and his sudden appearance:

The simplest among them thought that he should be named mayor of the world. Others of sterner mind felt that he should be promoted to the rank of five-star general in order to win all wars. Some visionaries hoped that he could be put to stud in order to implant the earth a race of winged wise men who could take charge of the universe.

All of them come up with some different interpretation, no matter how erroneous, and even learned men such as Father Gonzalo are shown to be none the wiser as they seek to impose a very narrow, rigid understanding of the angel and his significance. This could be viewed as Marquez very gently playing with his audience. He deliberately drops in an element to his story that clearly demands some symbolic interpretation, but then he goes on to deny any clear signals as to what that symbolic interpretation may be. The reader is placed in the same position as the villagers and as a result is left to be mocked by his or her own desire to come up with a solution as to what the angel might represent. Marquez therefore presents human beings as needing to find meaning in things that happen, no matter whether there is any meaning to be found or not.

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